In Memoriam: James Forman

James Forman


Born In Chicago in 1928 but raised by his grandmother in Mississippi, James Forman served as SNCC’s Executive Secretary 1961-1966. Jim served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War period, then returned to Chicago where he earned his B.A. at Roosevelt University. He taught in Chicago public schools and then went to Fayette County Tennessee to work on a CORE-led voter registration drive, before joining SNCC. In August 1961 he was jailed with other Freedom Riders in Monroe, N.C.

As Executive Secretary, Forman coordinated SNCC’s fundraising, hiring, administrative and communications work. His most famous directive to staff was “Write it down!”, the result of which is a vast trove of movement documentation relied on today by scholars. He was the author of the memoir “The Making of Black Revolutionaries” (1972), and of “Sammy Younge Jr” (1969).

After his years with SNCC, Forman lived in Washington, DC and was affiliated with the Black Panther Party, and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. In Detroit he participated in the Black Economic Development Conference, where his Black Manifesto was adopted. As a part of his “Black Manifesto”, on a Sunday morning in May 1969, Forman famously “interrupted services at New York City’s Riverside Church to demand $500 million in reparations from white churches to make up for injustices African Americans had suffered over the centuries”. Although Riverside’s preaching minister, the Rev. Ernest T. Campbell, termed the demands “exorbitant and fanciful,” he was in sympathy with the impulse, if not the tactic. Later, the church agreed to donate a fixed percentage of its annual income to anti-poverty efforts.” (Wikipedia)

During the 1970s and 1980s, Forman completed graduate work at Cornell University in African and African-American Studies and in 1982, he received a Ph.D. from the Union of Experimental Colleges and Universities, in cooperation with the Institute for Policy Studies.

James Forman died January 10, 2005 in Washington, DC. In Forman’s obituary, The New York Times called him “a civil rights pioneer who brought a fiercely revolutionary vision and masterly organizational skills to virtually every major civil rights battleground in the 1960s.”

James Forman
Photo @1963 by Danny Lyon